Chincoteague’s over. I’ve been back in East Hollywood for nearly a week now, and I’m still getting used to it.
I’d been home for a few nights when I met my neighborhood posse—Stephan McCormick, Megan Brotherton, and JR Nutt—at the bar—the bar—Birds. I was wearing my new Giants jersey, half-focused on the game on the TV, distracted, barely making an effort to talk to the friends I hadn’t seen for a month. I didn’t feel like I was actually home. I felt like I was just visiting, despite the familiarity of the scenery around me—my two favorite bartenders, an assembly of very good friends. Megan asked if I was glad to be back.
“No,” I said, and the next day, trying to atone for my impertinence, I texted the lot of them to suggest we get drinks again, and they all said they were busy.
So I went out and bought cigarettes. I hadn’t bought cigarettes for over six months, but I figured now was the time. I’d lost my LA rhythm. These first days back, I’d woken up and gone to the coffee shop—the coffee shop, the Bourgeois Pig—just like I used to, but then I’d finish up and go home and shower and forget what I was supposed to be doing. So I’d eat or run an errand and then I’d remember and get back on my computer but then I’d forget again, so I’d lie on my couch and try to read, but I couldn’t do that either—I was skipping over paragraphs, turning pages without registering the words. So I tried magazines. I had two fresh issues of Los Angeles to peruse, but those I couldn’t focus on either. The massive spreads devoted to cheap eats, new jam stores, and LA’s finest cocktails felt like a gallery of disappointments, a panorama of LA’s paper-thin promise. (But still I put the spent issues in the stack with the rest of them, ready for the time when a house guest would ask me where to find the best Korean-Salvadorian fusion.)
When I smoke, I go to the fire escape. My building is open-air—the halls have ceilings and walls on the sides but don’t have walls at the end; they open right onto the fire escapes. I light my cigarettes inside the hall so as to avoid the wind, standing right in front of the “No Smoking” sign, and then I step onto the ledge, where I find a view of a Rite Aid, a “castle” called Trianon, and a nub of the Hollywood Hills. And today, I noticed that, when I got out there, I was looking out like I normally do, but also, I was doing something differently: I was holding onto the fire escape’s ladder. I don’t know why I was doing this. I’m not afraid of heights. I’d never held onto the thing before.
I guess it occurred to me that the fire escape could collapse, and that, if it did collapse, I would die. This hadn’t occurred to me before, or at least, not with the oomph that it did today, and now, I hope the thought goes away, and I hope I can go back to standing out there without worrying about crashing down anymore. But I also hope that I don’t lose my heightened awareness of Los Angeles. I hope that, next month, when the new LA magazine comes out, I’ll still have enough Chincoteague in me—the memory of time with the people I became close with, leading the lives we want to lead, writing hard, writing fearlessly, coming down at the end of the day with an excess of Bud Light Lime and camaraderie—to remember that cheap eats and new jam stores and perfect cocktails and anything involving the word “mixology” and profiles of the Westfield Mall in Century City don’t make for good reading.
Tom Dibblee is Trop’s editor. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train and his nonfiction has appeared in Pacific Standard, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Point. He lives in Los Angeles.